After a heated debate lasting nearly an hour and a half, the Leichardt Council approved a development application for the 2014 St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, which will increase the event’s capacity by 4000 patrons to 12,000.
The approval had been recommended by council officers and various state government agencies, but was opposed by members of the Greens and local lobby group Friends of Callan Park.
They argued the event, to be held at the Sydney College of the Arts campus on Callan Park in Rozelle, could not hold more than 8000 without severely damaging the heritage-listed site.
“I’ve always supported the fact that we have this festival,” Greens councillor Rochelle Porteous said. “I just question whether that choice of that particular location in Callan Park is the best choice once the festival grows to a certain size.”
“There are unique botanics, botanics that you can’t replace anywhere else. [Callan Park] is a very special part of Sydney, which we want to retain and we don’t want to put at risk.”
But Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne, who has positioned himself as a champion of live music, rejected these sentiments.
“If our shared goal is to bring Callan Park back to life, we can’t wrap it in plastic…things will have to change,” he said, warning that rejecting the application could see the festival leave the inner west.
“Reducing the capacity to 8,000 people without any recommendation to do so from the police…will have one certain result – it will imperil the event in the future,” Mr Byrne said. “The promoters will have no choice but to look for another venue next year.”
The council was deadlocked 5-5 on a Greens amendment to limit the capacity to 8000. Liberal councillors Vera-Ann Hannaford and Tony Constantino sided with the Greens. Mr Byrne used his casting vote to defeat the amendment. The primary motion was then supported unanimously.
The festival has been identified as a positive way to boost the profile of the iconic Callan Park as a natural space for the community to share.
Last year Laneway’s capacity was capped primarily due to concerns the event would contribute to Saturday traffic congestion within the surrounding area. This year the festival will take place on Sunday, February 5, alleviating traffic implications.
The decision will please the event’s promoters, but not all attendees were sold on the merit of expanding capacity.
Jono Leonard, a 21-year old Sydney University student who will attend the festival, said a bigger space than Callan Park would be welcome.
“When I was there two years ago, it did get cramped,” he told the Inner West Independent. “Some of the stages weren’t quite big enough considering the world class acts that were playing.”
The matter garnered a large amount of public interest. The council gallery included Greens NSW convenor and president of Friends of Callan Park, Hall Greenland, and Australian music industry heavyweight and promoter of the Laneway Festival, Michael Chugg.
Labor and Greens councillors accused each other of politicising the issue in response to inflammatory comments directed towards councillor Michele McKenzie, prompting Mr Byrne to question the suitability of Hall Greenland acting as the president of Friends of Callan Park.
Mr Byrne said the decision to approve the extra capacity was a victory over the “fun police”.
“While many festivals are struggling and Sydney’s live music industry faces real challenges, Laneway has been the best thing to happen to the inner west live music scene in years,” he said.
By Edmund Kirkwood